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Peter Milligan Interview

By gavin O'Reilly

No stranger to controversy, Peter Milligan has had his work and unique comic book direction hitting the headlines before (particularly a certain story proposal to have a dead princess Diana join the marvel X-Statix team) Now he has chosen the often still shocking and disturbing Greek tragedies as a pool of inspiration to tell new stories in a contemporary, and familiarly gritty modern day London.

Liberation Frequency talks to the man behind the modern day myths to find the inspiration, purpose and direction to this already well received series in its infancy.

For people unfamiliar with Greek Street, how would you describe it?

Sophocles meets Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The myths and themes of Ancient Greek theatre played out on the violent streets of modern day London. Both an homage to those great plays of Ancient Greece, and a reworking of them in a modern context.

How long has the story of Greek Street been with you, just waiting to be told?

The Greeks plays have been with me for a long while. The idea of gelling my feelings towards these plays into a story is relatively recent. 

When you first read the greek tragedies, did you instantly think "there is something I can use here"?

Not quite that easily or quickly. I just became more and more interested in them. A while ago I had a long flight and read Ted Hughes’ translation of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia. The freshness of the prose really struck me. I began to remember and re-read a lot of the Tragedies and was blown away by their power, their brutality, and their strange relevance. I felt that these ancient people were both incredibly distant and alien and yet somehow dealing with very recognizable problems. The idea of writing an insane, messed bloody homage in modern day London started to form from there.

While you can read Greek Street without a familiarity of the Greek tragedies, would you say that that this knowledge would enrich the story for the reader? If so, would you point out a particulary good collection/volume of the stories that an unitiated reader might like to pick up?

First off, you’re right. You really don’t need any knowledge of Greek Tragedy to read and understands and hopefully get a kick out of Greek Street. Even though the lead character might be influenced by or represent at different times Oedipus or Orestes, he is also a real young man with real modern problems. That said, having knowledge of the plays would allow you to “get” a lot of the references and influences. There are a lot of okay books about Greek Tragedy, though some of them tend to be eye-wateringly academic. I think it’s better to go right to the source. As I said, I found Ted Hughes’ version of The Oresteia really good. I haven’t read but went to see an adaptation of Antigone, this was called BURIAL AT THEBES, translated and adapted by the great Seamus Heaney. These would be a good place to start.

In the twists and turns of the story that are not strictly a re-telling of the greek tragedies, are you trying to echo the originals style and impact, or turn them on their head to make them more contemporary?

Greek Street is not a re-telling, as such. It’s an homage. A frenetic, strange and twisted version of my take on the plays, seen through the prism of our frenetic age.

How much of the old world view of the greeks do you think translates to the modern day? Is it part of your reason for this work, or a happy by-product of the story to be told?

Clearly a lot of their world-view was very alien to us. Even the way they might consider an action and what drives that action could be different. But a lot of these plays were written and performed during times or war, and during times of great cultural unease: the Greeks were only too aware that their society could very easily be blown away or descend into barbarism. I this anxiety has an echo in our own experiences.

Eddie is not the typical comic book (or even TV or film) protagonist; will we see a revelatoinary moment for Eddie soon, or will he evolve more slowly throughout the story?

 He will evolve. But then, towards the end of the first story arc, there will be what you might call a revelatory moment.

Inspector Dedalus seems, at the moment at least, to be the most 'normal' of the characters- is it your aim to make him the most relatable for us as the reader to be submerged in the world a bit more easily? (that said, the strippers seem like they would be a good laugh)

I think Dedalus is a pretty normal character with understandable issues he’s trying to deal with, and usually failing. But I also think, in his own way, Eddie is quite a normal character. He is damaged and abused and hurt and young but I think there are a lot of kids out there like Eddie. Not all of them end up doing what he does but that’s just down to luck. And yes, I put a lot of thought into those strippers. They’re loosely based on some real strippers I knew. A mixed crowd, with different reasons for doing what they did, but with a refreshing kind of gallows-humour about their lives.

Did you choose David Gianfelice as the artist, or were you paired together?

I looked at a lot of artists. Will had worked with Davide on something else and showed me his work, said that he thought Davide would be great for it. What I like is that Davide has never been to London, let alone Soho, where Greek Street takes place. I like the fact that this is his imagining of London.

Can you give us a hint as to what to look forward to in the series in the coming months? (obviously, no spoilers please!)

After the utterly unexpected and terrible ending of the first story arc, we have some shorter stories planned. The first one is called AJAX. A modern-day retelling of Ajax, about a traumatized British soldier back from the war in Afghanistan.

Peter Milligan has been writing comics since the 80s and has a fabulously eclectic back catalogue of both mainstream and more left of field work. Issue 13 of Greek Street is out on 8th July.

Check out: http://sheckley.tripod.com/Milligan/milligan1.htm#P1 For a nice tribute to the man and his earlier work (it’s an old site and only goes up to 2004)

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